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My name is Melanie and in seven days' time I will become a criminal Melanie Reid

Comment: Columnist Melanie Reid on why she will not be getting her beloved dog Pip microchipped.

Melanie Reid, Pip, and the new canine microchip.
Melanie Reid, Pip, and the new canine microchip.

Confession time.

My name is Melanie and I own a dog. And on April 6, I'm going to become a criminal - because from that date every dog in the UK over eight weeks old must be compulsorily microchipped and its details registered on an approved database. And right now I have no intention of complying.

I'm sorry, but it's the straw that has broken this particular camel's back. I'm fed up of being a model citizen. After a lifetime of meekly filling in forms, ticking boxes, registering, de-registering, paying taxes, declaring duty-free, respecting speed limits, answering pointless questions, complying with authority and generally behaving like a goody goody in every single way, however senseless the request, I've reached terminal legislation. Enough already.

My dog is not abused, starved, a danger to the public or at risk of getting lost. She is perfectly safe as she is, unregulated. That is my decision to make, she's my family. Pip is a slightly plump, verging-on-elderly, timid re-homed Staffordshire bull terrier who never leaves the farm, gets distressed in a car, and thinks she's in trouble if you put a lead on her. I'm in a wheelchair and don't go out much; she's my constant companion. The only way she constitutes a nuisance is by being an affection junkie.

If she was young, valuable and travelling around; if I lived in town or exercised her among other dogs and people; if she was at risk of wandering or being stolen, then I would almost certainly choose to get her chipped. But the crucial thing is that the decision would be mine, based on the fact I know the dog's circumstances better than anyone else, and therefore based upon common sense.

Nobody has made a convincing argument that this law will turn us into a nation of responsible dog owners. Yes, it may mean a few more lost dogs are reunited more quickly with their owners. But will it impact on the baddies discarding and abandoning unwanted dogs, or prevent them keeping dangerous ones? I'm doubtful.

Since I joined the ranks of the chronically impaired, I have become allergic to interfering nonsense. I’m fed up with being a number to be lodged, stored, referenced and sorted.
Melanie Reid

And I'm cynical about the real reasons for this law. It's more about feeding the addiction which politicians and civil servants have for making rules. Controlling us in a thousand trivial ways. Forcing us to register to continue doing what we have always done, peacefully, harmlessly. Governments seem to have reached the state where if anything moves, it must be legislated, exploited, regulated, chipped, and the data stored.

There's a fashionable new expression in IT circles - IoT - the Internet of Things. This means that in the future everything that surrounds us in the environment will be microchipped and will communicate. Our cars, our fridges, cookers, houses, beds, even our clothes. They'll all be 'smart'. We will be able to monitor and control them with apps on our phones, and they'll also theoretically be able to talk to each other.

As in, Fridge to Central Heating: Cool it, I'm working too hard.

What's critical is that all their chips will also be centrally registered, which means someone else can potentially access the data. This is valuable information with sinister possibilities: the fridge manufacturer will know when the fridge needs replaced; the cooker will know what we're eating - chips again! Ring the Fat Police! The car will be betray where you've been, and when, and how well you drove, and the fact you still haven't replaced the brake pads.

Do we really want our pets to enter this world of electronic surveillance? And what's next - cats? Or children? The concept is the same.

It is significant, incidentally, that Nicola Sturgeon has just retreated a little on this front, stepping back from making the SNP's aim to have a compulsory named guardian for every child up until 18. Now she says it's voluntary. Ever since its inception, the idea of having a state-appointed guardian for your child (and presumably a state-held electronic file on your parenting skills etc) has proved controversial; only a minority of parents are thought to support it. For once, political realities have rapped the knuckles of the nanny state.

Disability and illness takes away privacy; it puts you firmly in a place where everyone in the able-bodied world can file you and find you and categorise you, make generalisations about your needs and interfere in your life.
Melanie Reid

Microchipping, let's face it, is about making you poorer and private companies richer. To get a canine tagged with an electronic device under its skin detailing its keeper and an address will cost the obedient about £20. This is the price most vets are quoting as a special introductory offer (a rip-off; it takes about two seconds to insert something the size of a grain of sand into the loose skin of a dog's neck) and many practices are 'generously' offering to register your details online for free (i.e. they're going to press Enter on their computer and not charge you). Thereafter, every time you move house, you must inform the microchipping company at a cost of £16. (To pay them to press Enter.)

Failure to comply will result in a fine of £500. Enforceable by... er, no one, in practice. The vets don't know who; they only know it won't be them. In fact the vets are absolutely certain it won't be them, a) because they're not empowered and b) because they're professionally compromised - these people are their clients.

Indeed, the British Veterinary Association's official stance perfectly sums up the madness. Vets are being told it is an offence not to report a non-compliant owner, and the BVA encourages them to do so; however, the BVA has been advised by Defra that prosecutions are "highly unlikely". And the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' stance is that failure to report, except in the case of repeated failures, will not result in disciplinary measures.

So who will enforce it? The police, busy these days with the horrendous responsibility of trying to keep us safe from the next Brussels-style jihadi strike - do we want them to be sent out to noise up good people who, heinously, haven't registered their dog? There are local authority wardens, and charity officials, but their numbers are small.

Exactly the same thing happened when the law making passports compulsory for horses came in a few years ago. It was unenforceable and chaotic, with dozens of different issuing bodies; it cost responsible owners a fortune and made vets a healthy income. And guess what? Irresponsible owners ignored it completely.

I’m fed up of being a model citizen. After a lifetime of meekly filling in forms, ticking boxes, registering, de-registering, paying taxes, declaring duty-free, respecting speed limits, answering pointless questions, complying with authority and generally behaving like a goody goody in every single way, however senseless the request, I’ve reached terminal legislation. Enough already.
Melanie Reid

Unenforceable law is purely and simply bad law. Microchipping will criminalise responsible dog-owners while irresponsible owners, puppy farmers, crooks, brutes and thieves will continue to act anti-socially. And it will be us - it's always us - obedient, acquiescent, law-abiding people, trapped by our postcodes and our credit scores and our honesty, who will be in trouble.

We've been subsidising compulsory money-making schemes like this for years on the absurd premise that if we sign up then a minority of baddies will change their behaviour. We are ever-dripping roasts.

Especially since I joined the ranks of the chronically impaired, I have become allergic to interfering nonsense. I'm fed up with being a number to be lodged, stored, referenced and sorted. For too long I was in hospital defined by the barcode on my wrist band; I still feel I exist, in many ways, primarily as a hospital CHI number, a DSS number for benefits, a statistic for numbers of bed-nights occupied. Disability and illness takes away privacy; it puts you firmly in a place where everyone in the able-bodied world can file you and find you and categorise you, make generalisations about your needs and interfere in your life.

I really don't think my poor wee dog needs to join me there.

Commentary by Melanie Reid, a journalist and broadcaster. She is a columnist for The Times. In 2010, a horse-riding accident left her paralysed, and since then she has written about her life in 'Spinal Column', which appears every week in The Times Saturday magazine.

Melanie Reid talks to Scotland Tonight's Rona Dougall in 2012 about the horse-riding accident that changed her life.

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